Gayle's Story


Gayle's Story


  • 1933 - 1968
  • woman stands beside mummy case
    Gayle with a friend

When I was a girl in Grade School, my parents allowed me to take the bus and streetcar, by myself, down to the Museum every Sunday afternoon. I guess the world seemed a safer place in those days.  My first visit had been with my Brownie troop, little girls marching up and down the grand stairway, past all the exhibits, silent and obedient, never straying from the file. What were all those things we’d passed but not really seen?  I needed to know.

At eleven, I was old enough to travel on my own. I’d come after church, in my nice Sunday dress and my shiny Sunday shoes, with my 25 cent a week allowance in my purse along with a pencil, some paper, and a nice hankie. All the galleries were mysterious and magical. I didn’t know about maps, so I got lost just about every week. The place seemed infinite as I walked and walked and walked to find my way. There were days when my pretty shoes caused blisters on my ankles. Since I didn’t want to give up any of my time at the Museum, I just kept on walking until my feet bled.  

About 4 p.m. I’d hobble to a stairwell in the North-West corner of the building. There was a water-fountain back there. If no one else was in the stairwell, I’d take off my shoes and socks and wash out my bloody socks. Then I’d put the socks back on and walk up and down the cold marble stairs until I could bear to get back into my shoes.  Then I’d walk some more until the guards told me it was closing time.

What did I learn from all that walking and looking?  There was nothing systematic in my explorations. The Roman galleries had drawers and drawers of little clay lamps to pull out and look at. The big wall paintings were portals to other worlds; the Ice Age made me shiver even in summer. Live lizards in the dinosaur gallery were a little smelly, but I told myself we scientists had to get used to such things. Queen Elizabeth’s lovely Canadian Maple Leaf dress made me realize I was too tall to be a princess. Rooms of furniture made the past a place you could live in. Sometimes, not very often, I’d go to a back corner on the bottom floor, past all the Paul Kanes and the African masks and dioramas of Native people going about their wonderful business, to peek at the shrunken head of a man who’d once lived in South America.  Some days he was scary, some days just sad.  

I kept being drawn to Egypt.  I’d copy hieroglyphs and try to find names or I’d study a single case and draw the artifacts in it.  The mummies scared me until one day I saw a five by three card on a glass case. I went over and read that the body inside was a man named Antjau. I said a prayer for him, and we’ve been good friends ever since. Knowing his name somehow made it all right to look at him, and to study his coffin. Soon, I got to know the other mummies, too.  Eventually, I learned their language and visited their country.  I’ve been studying Ancient Egypt now for well over fifty years.

In the early years, I never dreamed I’d get to work here and spend my days with the mummies and the dinosaurs and all the puzzling, peculiar, astonishing Ancient Stuff. The building is still full of wonder and mystery; I’m still walking, looking, and learning. Antjau and I are still friends.


Comment by Bernel

Gayle, why are egyptology still showing Egyptian as white people, but with all the information scholars have gotten, we know the Egyptians people are black(dark skin)people; also the descendants of the ancient Egyptians no longer live in Egypt any more.

Comment by Lead Concierge

This is the best article I know of on the subject:

"Building Bridges to Afrocentrism:  A Letter to my Egyptology Colleagues," A Newsletter of the American Research Center in Egypt 167 & 168 (September and December 1995); posted on the web as and elsewhere; and republished in:  The Flight from Science and Reason, P.R. Gross et al., eds., Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 775 (New York, 1996), 313-326.

Comment by Lynn Bulloch

I met Gayle Gibson visiting the ROM in grade 7, on a school field trip from Sudbury to Toronto. I never forgot her passion for Egypt and archaeology, and I never forgot her name. Tonight, Gayle is visiting Science North in Sudbury, and I am excited to see her again, I hope it's going to be as exciting as it was for me as a tween, almost 25 years ago.

Comment by hannah

how long does it take for a mummys skin to fully rot before you can see the skull and the bones

Comment by Gayle P. Gibson

Dear Hannah,

It takes about forty days to dry out a human body the Ancient Egyptian way, using natron to help with the dessication, and relying on the heat and dryness of Egypt as well. We know this because of modern experiments, and because ancient texts do report varying lengths of time to dry out a body, with 70 days between death and funeral being a sort of 'official' limit. Poorer people didn't get such fancy ceremonies, and so they were often buried much more quickly.
But these are thoughts about mummies, which are dried out human bodies with the skin and muscle intact. If an Egyptian mummy is kept in stable conditions, such as in a tomb, the skin will stay on indefinitely. You can go on-line and Google "Mummy of Seti I" and you'll see a body which still looks very handsome - i always think many living people don't look as good as Seti I.
But if a mummy is in a damp tomb, or if the wrapping are disturbed and the body is exposed to the air and wind, then the skin will decay. Some mummies which were brought to Canada or the USA or England a hundred and fifty years ago are just skeletons now because they were not kept in dry conditions.
The dryness is what keeps the skin in good condition. Think about a raisin - it's really just a dried up grape. If you keep raisins in a glass jar, they will keep for years. But if you leave them out on the kitchen counter-top in a dish with a spoonful of water, they will rot away quite quickly. You could try an experiment by putting some raisins in an air-tight container, and some in a bowl with water and some in a bowl with no water, but leaving these two bowls outside where animals can't get at them. You'll see big differences.
I hope that my long explanation is helpful to you. Please write back if you have any questions.
Best wishes,